Philip Barker

Fireworks crackled as the Olympic Flame was finally extinguished at these Beijing 2022 Games.

It was virtually guaranteed that the Closing Ceremony, directed by Zhang Yimou, would be another visual tour de force and so it proved, right up to the moment when golden snowflakes ascended from the stadium in the grand finale.

This was once again a show designed for television with many of the special effects visible only on the broadcast.

There was none of the controversy which attended the Opening Ceremony.

It also had strong echoes of the last time the Olympics were in this city 14 years ago. Even the theme, "One World One Family", was a variation on "One World One Dream" which had been the byword in 2008.

The LED rings which caused such a stir then, now reappeared to soar above the snowflake receptacle which contained the micro Olympic Flame.

The song You and Me had been performed as a giant globe ascended at the 2008 Opening Ceremony and, 14 years on, it was included in a medley performed by schoolchildren as a prelude to the Snowflake song.

The notion of tapping into the nostalgia created by a previous Games is nothing new. Seoul assembled all the previous mascots for the finale of its Opening Ceremony in 1988.

In Pyeongchang 2018, organisers often juxtaposed the winter tiger mascot Soohorang with Hodori from 1988.

It had also happened at the Sochi 2014 Closing Ceremony when many Russians had been delighted to hear the repetition song which had originally accompanied the departure of mascot Misha the bear as the 1980 Moscow Olympics came to an end.

Mayors Giuseppe Sala and Gianpietro Ghedina were given the Olympic Flag ©Getty Images
Mayors Giuseppe Sala and Gianpietro Ghedina were given the Olympic Flag ©Getty Images

The Closing Ceremony of Beijing 2022 came on another chilly night, so many were relieved at the relative brevity of proceedings.

The visual choreography of the whole evening was impressive.

Unusual for a Closing Ceremony, it was on a par with the Opening Ceremony.

That the Games should coincide with the Chinese New Year was seen by many as a happy chance. Children with lanterns lit up the emblem of the Games and a Chinese knot in a pleasing opening to the Games.

This was soon followed by the arrival of Chinese President Xi Jinping and International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach.

As they took their socially-distance places, young performers assembled in front of the Presidential box to greet Xi. This may well have been genuine but it came across as rather contrived.

The cheers which welcomed the speeches later also seemed somehow less than authentic.

It has always been intended the teams should enter the stadium at the Closing Ceremony in a rather more informal fashion than is the case at the Opening Ceremony.

At the Melbourne 1956 Olympics, there had been a mingling of the teams at the Closing Ceremony as organisers acted on an idea suggested by Chinese-Australian teenager John Ian Wing. He had suggested that the teams should enter had without distinction of nationality, with this to represent one world.

Norway's Therese Johaug was given her third gold medal of Beijing 2022 during the Closing Ceremony ©Getty Images
Norway's Therese Johaug was given her third gold medal of Beijing 2022 during the Closing Ceremony ©Getty Images

Here most athletes entered together with their team-mates and the Chinese team all congregated at the Presidential box to wave miniature flags to Xi.

It took some while for the teams to take their seats for the formal part of the Closing Ceremony.

This was staged with some style.

The lowering of the Olympic Flag was accompanied by a sensational rendition of the Olympic anthem in the original Greek by Malanhua’er Children’s Choir from the mountains of Hubei.

In Chinese tradition, it is the custom to put on new clothes to celebrate the New Year.

"The Children’s choir will show this tradition by changing into new costumes that will be of the same style from the Opening Ceremony but in a new colour scheme", organisers said.

A key staging post at any Games is the Handover of the ceremonial Olympic Flag to the next host city or country.

Beijing passed the Flame to the 2026 hosts.

The two Mayors, Giuseppe Sala from Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo’s Gianpietro Ghedina, took possession of the Olympic Flag which had first been presented to their predecessors in 1956.

Since Los Angeles 1984, this has always incorporated a cultural display by the next host city

The offering from Milan Cortina 2026 had elegance, style and modernity.

The theme "Duality Together" seemed hardly to have been chosen by accident. 

There were two performers of the Italian anthem, vocalist Malika Ayane and violinist Giovanni Andrea Zanon, representing the host city and host town.

Their performance was unorthodox but most felt pleasingly original.

The Milan Cortina 2026 presentation included a representation of the fragile world ©Getty Images
The Milan Cortina 2026 presentation included a representation of the fragile world ©Getty Images

Two youngsters representing the two hosts pushed a globe across thin ice in a sequence designed to "suggest the fragile condition of our planet", Milan Cortina 2026 said.

Two other "mysterious characters" followed a trail through Milan and Cortina d'Ampezzo in a video format and then finally appeared together to dance a pas de deux

The balletic duet was against a computerised backdrop on the stage which depicted an image of the white snow of the Dolomites and the ice of Milan where the emblem of the 2026 Games appeared.

It was skilfully executed, though once again, the Olympic Flag was actually passed on before the Beijing Games were formally declared closed by Bach.

This has happened at a number of recent Games and seems to militate against a logical sequence of events.

Throughout the Closing Ceremony, the snowflake carrying the micro Flame had been suspended above the stadium. 

It had burnt in an identical receptacle near Games but against the grandeur of the Bird's Nest the Flame appeared somehow bigger.

A display of fireworks set the seal on the Closing Ceremony.

That it was so spectacular should come as little surprise, because fireworks after all were invented in China.